Sexual harassment: Let’s define it

Harvey Weinstein. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. Garrison Keillor. And so many more, some known and many who have yet to apologize.

All have been accused of sexual harassment or worse.

This crime knows no boundaries. Democrats and Republicans. Rich people. Plenty of rich, powerful people. Hollywood types. Media moguls.

I have a question, which I haven’t heard anyone – except for one close friend – ask.

What, exactly, is sexual harassment?

Don’t tell me it’s in the eye of the beholder. That’s a cop-out, and no answer at all.

We need a definition that all of us, and I mean all of us, can agree on.

In no way am I excusing true sexual harassment. If a man touches a woman’s private parts, for example, that’s completely unacceptable and should be prosecuted to the extent of whatever laws there are.

What about a hug? If I give a woman (who is not my wife) a one-armed side hug, I have been taught that that’s OK. If I give her a full-body two-armed hug, that is not OK.

What if a woman gives me a full-body hug, then charges me with sexual harassment?

See the dilemma?

That’s why we need a national standard for sexual harassment.

Women and CPR

I saw an article recently that said women are less likely to receive CPR than a man is if she is having a heart attack. I wonder if the harassment issue plays into that.

What if I, even accidentally, touch a woman in the wrong place while trying to save her life? I’ve had CPR training, and they teach us to unbutton the victim’s shirt to improve the chances for success.

Would that cross the line? If I do that and the woman dies, could her family file charges against me?

I’m serious.

In today’s atmosphere, her family might be successful.

Again, I’m not condoning abuse. What Dr. Larry Nassar did to numerous female U.S. gymnasts in the name of medicine is inexcusable. Throw the book at him. Make an example out of him so that, hopefully, no one ever does that again.

Where’s the line between those two extremes? As a man, how do I know when I cross it?

Again, don’t tell me that if I have to ask the question, I’m guilty. That’s a cop-out.

And you’d probably be right anyway, as I’ll show in a minute.

Temptations and Hollywood

Temptations are everywhere in our sex-saturated society. Of course, that’s no excuse. Not every man touches a woman inappropriately after seeing a sexually-explicit television ad or an R-rated movie.

I see a TV ad these days with men in underwear and the voice-over announcer says, “Don’t wear your dad’s underwear.” You can hardly watch a football game without a closeup of the cheerleaders, often looking up. Prime-time TV shows joke about sex like it’s no big deal, something that everyone does, whether they’re married or not.

If everyone does it, why are men being punished for doing less? Every TV actor and actress likes it, including the women, according to the script writers.


If sex is mainstream in front of a camera, what’s the big deal off-camera?

Of course, it’s a big deal. Hollywood is not real, even though real people are saying and doing very real things. But we know better, don’t we?

So, where’s the line?

Keillor vs. Lauer

Garrison Keillor’s situation troubles me. According to an article in today’s newspaper, he “apparently put his hand on a woman’s bare back when trying to console her.”

“She recoiled. I apologized,” Keillor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an email. “I sent her an email of apology later, and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it.
“We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

Minneapolis Public Radio terminated his contracts over that.

What did Keillor do wrong? He admitted his mistake immediately, and the woman accepted his apology.

That’s not good enough any more? What’s her purpose in hiring a lawyer?

To fire a popular radio figure, ruin his reputation and end his 40-year career?

The article doesn’t say anything about seeking monetary damages. Indeed, none of female victims in today’s high-profile cases are seeking financial damages.

If Matt Lauer used his position of influence to take advantage of women, his reputation should be ruined.

Garrison Keillor didn’t do that, apparently.

So, why do they suffer the same fate?

All men are guilty

If I touch a woman’s (covered) shoulder during a light moment, is that harassment? If I give a hug or pat on the back for emotional support or encouragement, is that harassment?

Don’t give me the “eye of the beholder” argument. You might change your mind later, as Keillor’s accuser did. If the standard changes, how can I possibly follow it?

Men are visual. We are wired that way. If you’re going to file a lawsuit against me for who I am, I stand no chance.

If you charge me with looking at you weird, I’m most likely guilty. Every male who ever lived, including me, has done this at some point. That doesn’t mean I’m going to act on that or that it’s even something I’m going to dwell on. That temptation often passes.

But for a second, I’m guilty.

That’s why we need a standard for sexual harassment. Where we seem to be headed, every man on Earth is guilty.

If you’re looking for a skeleton in my closet, you’ll probably find it. We men do our best to hide such things, but if you look expecting to find something, you will.

Here’s a thought. Each of us has good things in us, too. If you try to find the good in me, you might just draw that out instead.

Let’s define it

Again, I am not defending sexual harassment or abuse.

I’m just asking:

What is it?

Let’s come up with a definition we all can agree on.

Did Garrison Keillor cross that line?

If he did, then I daresay nearly all of us men are guilty.

What is the endgame here?


Certainly, women need respect. To be honest, you haven’t had it in a long time. Look at our movies, TV shows and ads, magazines – and on and on. You’re portrayed as little more than sex objects across the landscape.

Why, women, do you put up with that stuff?

We should have had this discussion a long time ago.

Let’s define harassment.

Then, let’s follow that definition.

In every area of our lives.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, let’s think this through.

Then do something about it.


One thought on “Sexual harassment: Let’s define it

  1. Great commentary Bill. Women are no different than men in this category of ‘ogling’ (sp?) This problem with Bill Cosby and Weinstein has grown to smack of McCarthyism.


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